Antibodies (Abs) to MUC1 occur naturally in both healthy subjects and cancer patients and can be induced by MUC1 peptide vaccination. We compared the specificity of natural and induced MUC1 Abs with the objective of defining an effective MUC1 vaccine for active immunotherapy of adenocarcinoma patients. Serum samples, selected out of a screened population of 492 subjects for their high levels of IgG and/or IgM MUC1 Abs, were obtained from 55 control subjects and from 26 breast cancer patients before primary treatment, as well as from 19 breast cancer patients immunized with MUC1 peptides coupled to keyhole limpet hemocyanin (KLH) and mixed with QS-21. The samples were tested with enzyme-linked immunoassays for reactivity with (1) overlapping hepta- and 20-mer peptides spanning the MUC1 tandem repeat sequence; (2) two modified 60-mer peptides with substitutions in the PDTR (PDTA) or in the STAPPA (STAAAA) sequence of each tandem repeat; and (3) four 60-mer glycopeptides with each 1, 2, 3 and 5 mol N-acetylgalactosamine (GalNAc) per repeat. More than one minimal epitopic sequence could be defined, indicating that Abs directed to more than one region of the MUC1 peptide core can coexist in one and the same subject. The most frequent minimal epitopic sequence of natural MUC1 IgG and IgM Abs was RPAPGS, followed by PPAHGVT and PDTRP. MUC1 peptide vaccination induced high titers of IgM and IgG Abs predominantly directed, respectively, to the PDTRPAP and the STAPPAHGV sequences of the tandem repeat. Natural MUC1 Abs from breast cancer patients reacted more strongly with the N-acetylgalactosamine (GalNAc) peptides than with the naked 60-mer peptide, while reactivity with the GalNAc-peptides was significantly reduced (2-tailed p < 0.0001) in the MUC1 IgG and IgM Abs induced by MUC1 peptide vaccination. Whereas in cancer patients glycans appear to participate in epitope conformation, the epitope(s) recognized by MUC1 Abs induced by peptide vaccination are already masked by minimal glycosylation. Therefore, our results indicate that a MUC1 glycopeptide would be a better vaccine than a naked peptide.
Copyright 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.